13 ‘PG’ Horror Films That Could Probably Be Rated ‘R’ Today

Movie ratings exist to gauge what’s up on the big screen, to classify it for an audience the MPAA think it best suited for. Unfortunately, movie ratings are pretty arbitrary and completely subjective, and therefore entirely pointless. Still, when we hear “PG”, we envision a certain type of movie. An “R” rating usually conjures up images of an entirely different film.

There are a few horror movies from the days of yore that – for whatever reason – seem to have slipped by the censors; movies that were rated PG upon release, but clearly contain themes and subject matter that might require a little more than ‘parental guidance’, even for the most permissive audiences. Without further ado, here are 13 of the greatest offenders.


Poltergeist (1982)

Offenses: sex, drugs & rotten food.

I mean, where do I begin? The child abduction angle? The pot-smoking parents? The fact that JoBeth Williams is in her underwear for two-thirds of the movie? (Not that I’m complaining.) There’s even spooky toys, killer trees, and seven uses of the word “shit”. However, the most shocking scene happens when a paranormal investigator (under ghostly influence) believes he’s tearing his face off in big, bloody chunks – revealing the skull beneath. Remember: this movie has the same rating as Shrek.


Jaws (1975)

Offenses: skinny-dippin’, limb-rippin’, Narragansett-sippin’.

The disembodied head above is just one of the many bloody and/or shocking scenes in Jaws. (And I’m tellin’ you now: you’re gonna see a lot of Spielberg on this list.) If I had to decide what pushes this movie into R-rated waters (see what I did there?), it comes down to two things: the opening scene, wherein a joint-smoking hippie chick goes for a swim completely nekkid and we see everything (even the sharks POV, if you catch my drift), and the fact that it’s a movie about a shark that eats people. From little kids to weathered war vets, we see everyone get dispatched with equally bloody bites.


Beetlejuice (1988)

Offenses: honestly, too many to name.

Beetlejuice is a moldy, perverted ghost who looks up skirts and falls in love with a 17-year-old girl. At one point he screams, “Nice fuckin’ model!” while grabbing his crotch. Later on, we see him go into a whorehouse after he describes how horny he is. Other characters include an old woman with a slashed throat, a pageant model who has slit her wrists, and a chain-smoking corpse that’s charred beyond recognition. Not to mention the entire film is about death and dying. In case you were wondering: this movie has the same rating as Finding Dory.


Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
twilight zone

Offenses: heavy duty social commentary.

It’s not unusual for movies to be slapped with a harder rating for just a single instance of something (for example, just one “fuck” gets you an automatic PG-13). It’s also not that rare for movies to be given harder ratings just based on their general “feel” (oftentimes referred to as “thematic elements”). With that in mind, Twilight Zone: The Movie could be given an instant R-rating just for its segment entitled “Time Out”. In it, a racist is forced to experience the plight of different minorities throughout history, including the Vietnam War and lynchings in the South. Most shocking of all is the end, which sees him being carted off to a concentration camp. Combine that with the ghouls and gremlins from the other segments, and I’m thinking the ratings board was dozing when it came time to rate this’n.


Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Phantom of the Paradise (1975)

Offenses: all the free-wheelin’ excess you’d expect from a movie about the ’70s rock n’ roll scene.

Orgies? Check. Massive cocaine and pill use? Check. Stabbings, electrocutions, maimings? Check, check, check. There’s even a dash of sexism and casual homophobia for good measure. This Brian De Palma-directed rock opera (which came out a year before Rocky Horror) has it all! The strange thing is, I feel like a kid could watch this and not pick up on any of the bad stuff because they’d be so distracted by all the catchy songs. I know I was! Still, there’s no way this sucker should only be PG.


Tales from the Crypt (1972)
tales from the crypt

Offenses: corpses, and killers, and carnage – oh my!

In the early-1950s, EC’s Tales from the Crypt comic book (as well as many of its sister publications) famously came under fire from prudish parents and teachers who thought the reading material would lead to juvenile delinquency; there were a few highly publicized Congressional subcommittee hearings on the subject in 1954, which led to the decline and eventual cancelation of TFTC and its sister publications later that year. So it’s incredibly ironic that less than two decades later, those very same stories would serve as the source material for the PG-rated Tales from the Crypt film. The murder, blood, gore, and reanimated corpses are presented still in tact – so if you’re a prudish parent or teacher, avoid it at all costs.


The Witches (1990)
the witches

Offenses: face-peelin’, kid-stealin’, and mice squealin’.

Anyone who has read them know that many of Roald Dahl’s stories have streaks of adult themes (and occasionally ‘mature’ language), so it should come as know surprise that The Witches, based on the synonymous Dahl story, oftentimes feels not so kid-friendly. In fact, this is a straight up horror movie. A coven of super terrifying witches (with horrible faces, toeless feet, and heads covered in sores) plan to rid England of all its children by turning them into mice; throughout the film, mice are stepped on or sliced up. And let’s not forget the scene where head witch Anjelica Huston peels off her ‘normal’ face to reveal the hideous visage below. Between the violence, the creepy witches who stalk and abduct children, and the overall fever-dream feel of the film, The Witches is one of the scariest kids movies ever made.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
body snatchers

Offenses: space goo, naked hibernation, pod-dy humor.

Strange how a movie can be branded with an R for nudity, or using an F-bomb, or showing someone smoking a joint…but something as disturbing and terrifying as Invasion of the Body Snatchers can sneak by with a PG. In the film a virus from space starts spreading on earth, killing off anyone it infects by incubating them under a webby, slimy cocoon – from which they emerge a deadly clone of their former selves. Sure, there’s drug use, and nudity, and some language present. But it’s a truly scary film, and that’s what separates it from your average PG movie. I mean, a dog with a human face? Nightmare material, man.


Tourist Trap (1979)
tourist trap

Offenses: general horrifying shit.

Fun Fact: Tobe Hooper intended for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to be rated PG. He didn’t get his way (TCM got an X upon it’s first submission to the MPAA), but somehow the Massacre-esque Tourist Trap managed to come away with a head-scratching PG. Even Tourist Trap director David Schmoeller was surprised – in fact, he thought the film would be more successful with an R-rating. So what makes it so…”R-worthy”? Look at that picture. Do I even need to explain about the old man who wears a plaster mask while killing off a group of kids who stop by his mannequin-filled home? Do I?


Gremlins (1984)

Offenses: enough to warrant creation of the PG-13 rating.

Gremlins may be the granddaddy of all kids movies not intended for kids. Spielberg was on a roll in the early-’80s, but his stuff was getting a little too colorful for puritanical mainstream audiences. Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were so close to receiving an R that Spielberg was forced to improvise and suggested the MPAA create an in-between rating: PG-13. Make no mistake, Gremlins is a mean little creature feature full of violence, language, and tons of other stuff you’ll have a hell of a time explaining to your kid.


The Other (1972)
the other

Offenses: infanticide, grave desecration, self-immolation.

Yes, you read that right: babies are drowned, people set themselves on fire, and corpses are defiled in this feel good PG-rated flick. The first time you watch The Other – a film about a mischievous set of twins wreaking havoc of their family’s farm – it might not seem thatbad, but that’s only because the horrific events are drawn out over the course of the film’s runtime. Were the bad scenes back-to-back, there’d be no denying that the film could use a stiffer rating. In many ways, The Other sort of feels like a 1970’s version of Goodnight Mommy – a film which is rated R, by the way.


Deathdream (1974)

Offenses: your basic zombie shenanigans.

A young solider is killed in Vietnam but shows up back at his home in the States a few days later seemingly unharmed. Soon after, he begins displaying bizarre behavior. Turns out he’s some sort of zombie, and in order to stay alive he’s been killing neighborhood residents and injecting himself with their blood. Despite his attempts, he continues to rot and decay, and looks more and more horrifying as the film progresses. this film has the same rating as Pixar’s The Incredibles. Incredible, indeed.


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), & The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971)
argento triple

Offenses: blood, boobs, and blades.

Last but not least I offer a trifecta – a Dario Argento triple feature of The Bird with the Crystal PlumageFour Flies on Grey Velvet, and The Cat o’Nine Tails. Yes, somehow Argento managed to make not just one, but three giallo films that escaped an R-rating. Anyone who’s watched one of these Italian gems – or any giallo film, for that matter – will know how laughable anything less than a hard R would be. Copious amounts of nudity, rampant violence (including plenty of sexual violence), and gore by the bucketful is littered throughout each of these films. But hey, maybe parents from The Boot are okay with their kids seeing that type of thing.

(Honorable Mentions go to It’s Alive and Burnt Offerings)


Dr. Jose is a horror journalist and maker of scary wares at Camera Viscera.
Dr. Jose

Dr. Jose

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